Steaks and blue cheese: Start with good ingredients and get out of the way

by Terry B on November 12, 2008

Simple preparation lets quality ingredients shine in Steaks with Blue Cheese. Recipe of sorts below.

We had our friends Karin and Dick over for dinner for the first time last weekend. As we started talking about what to serve, my first thought was to mine the Blue Kitchen archives. Then Marion told me that Karin had said they’ve cooked everything we’ve posted on Blue Kitchen. My first reaction probably should have been feeling flattered. Instead it was this: “Dang.”

We got busy looking through cookbooks and back issues of Bon Appétit and Gourmet. We started prowling the Internet. And the more we bandied ideas back and forth, the more complex things seemed to get. And then it hit me. What about some nice little steaks pan seared and topped with really good blue cheese? Done.

Suddenly, everything got simpler in a very good way. For sides, some hand mashed potatoes with buttermilk and a salad of mixed greens and arugula. Some cheese and olives to start and a delicious, rustic apple galette [that will inspire its own post one of these days] for dessert. The conversation flowed like wine. So did the wine. And a simply beautiful evening was had by all [unless Dick and Karin were lying to spare our feelings].

Nowhere to hide. Regular readers know that I tend to take a minimalist approach in the kitchen. This recipe is stripped down, even by my standards. When you work with just a few ingredients, every one has to pull its weight. For the beef, I went with small filet mignons. They’re not as big flavored as some cuts—New York Strip, for instance—but they’re melt-in-your-mouth tender and generally thick enough to stay pink inside, even when nicely charred on the outside. Besides, the blue cheese would be bringing plenty of flavor to the table and would play nicely with the more subtle meatiness of filet mignon.

The cheesemongers’ choice. My first thought on blue cheese was to go with the delicious, Iowa-produced Maytag Blue I’d fallen hard for when I recreated the Endive Salad with Blue Cheese and Walnuts we discovered at the so-very-French bistro Lucien in New York. But it felt a little too firm to the touch [which is precisely what I liked about it for the salad]. I wanted something that would soften just slightly when it came in contact with the hot steak. So I asked one of the cheesemongers at Whole Foods for a recommendation, telling him how I planned to use it. He told me he was a vegetarian, but showed me a cheese all his meat-eating colleagues swore by. Then he pointed me to his boss for a second opinion. The rapturous look on the second man’s face was all the confirmation I needed.

So what was this mythic cheese? King Island Dairy’s Roaring 40s Blue Cheese, from an island just south of Melbourne, Australia. The 40s in question aren’t an era; they’re ferocious westerly winds that blow along the 40°S Latitude and have caused countless shipwrecks on the island’s rocky shoreline. Legend has it that straw mattresses washed ashore from shipwrecks anywhere from the 15th to the 18th centuries [depending on who’s telling the tale] sowed the seeds that became the pastures cows have grazed on for more than a century now. Wait. It gets better. Occasionally, these same fierce winds whip up storms that deposit kelp on the shore, which the cows also graze upon. The result of this diet, pretty much everyone agrees, is that “The cows are reputed to produce the sweetest milk in the land.”

So. Some nice steaks and some truly transcendent blue cheese. What more do you need? A hot pan and precious little more. The whole process is so simple, I almost hesitate to call it a recipe.

Steaks with Blue Cheese
Serves 4

4 4- to 6-ounce filet mignons [see Kitchen Notes]
4 tablespoons [more or less] quality blue cheese [see Kitchen Notes]
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

About 1/2 hour before you’re ready to cook the steaks, take them and the blue cheese out of the fridge  to lose a bit of their chill [if it’s summer where you are and your air conditioning is on the fritz, you might skip this step to be on the safe side].

Heat a large, heavy skillet over a high flame. Pat steaks dry with paper towels and season both sides generously with salt and pepper. When pan is hot, add oil and butter and swirl pan to combine and coat the pan. Add steaks and cook until nicely charred on one side, about 4 minutes. Turn steaks and reduce heat to medium [the hot pan will still char the bottom, but as the pan cools slightly, the cooking will slow]. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes on the second side for medium rare, then transfer to a serving platter. Mound about 1 tablespoon of blue cheese on each steak. Bring the platter to the table and carefully transfer steaks to individual plates with tongs. You can also plate the steaks in the kitchen.

Kitchen Notes

Choosing your steaks. Again, I picked filet mignons as much for their thickness [about 1-1/2 inches] as for their flavor. New York strips would also work well, but if the cut is thinner, reduce cooking time on the second side. Please don’t overcook them and please do season generously with salt and pepper. Come on, you’re topping this thing with cheese. Just admit going in that this won’t be the healthiest thing you put in your body all week and enjoy it thoroughly. Eating well is all about balance.

So how good was the Roaring 40s Blue? It was pretty damned amazing. But any quality blue cheese would be delicious in this application. As you can see from the photo, it doesn’t melt on the steak, but it does soften up; you can kind of moosh it around a bit on the top of the steak with your fork to make sure you get some with every bite.

A few more steak recipes. Just before deciding on these steaks—both for company and for this post—I read an entertaining post on someone else’s blog. [I’m embarrassed to say I can’t remember where, but it was someone new to me—if you recognize her, please speak up.] She’s always been someone for whom steak meant reaching for the A1 Sauce. For her birthday, her husband grilled some exquisite and expensive steaks on the condition that she skip the A1. She became an immediate convert to sauce-free steaks. And I wholeheartedly agreed… except for my Pan Seared Steaks with Chimichurri Sauce. And except for Curried Steaks with Black-eyed Pea Salsa. Oh, and my Bistro Steaks with Red Wine Reduction. Okay, so I guess I’m not such a purist after all.


{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Toni November 12, 2008 at 5:29 am

Oh, Terry, you KNOW that a dynamite steak with a terrific blue cheese will ALWAYS be a hit! Who needs a “recipe”? I so agree with you that it’s about balance. No this isn’t the health food recipe of the week, but if living well is, in fact, the best revenge, then this recipe is all the revenge I need!

Donald November 12, 2008 at 12:16 pm

That’s a pairing that we do quite a bit on our home. I usually buy the dry-aged ribeye for me and the filet for Beck from Whole Paychex. Typically, those steaks don’t need anything but salt and pepper. Sometimes I like sauteed onions and mushrooms with them, but minimum fuss with a good steak.

Stay tuned…I have some Akaushi ribeyes being delivered TODAY!!!! I’m more excited than a pyro alone in a petrified forest.

maggie November 12, 2008 at 4:07 pm

That looks like an amazing meal. I’m all for simplifying.

susan c November 12, 2008 at 4:27 pm

Have you tried the steak recipe from the Wall St Journal that made a sensation last year? It starts out in the grill pan and finishes off in the oven. All of the top chefs said that this is the way they cook their steaks at home. And, to my surprise, several said that Costco had the best steaks at the best value.

Altadenahiker November 12, 2008 at 4:28 pm

If I keep cooking your stuff, I’d better double up on my running time. Like right now.

Terry B November 12, 2008 at 5:51 pm

Toni—I fear we have a bit of balancing to here. I didn’t want to disrupt Saturday’s dinner by photographing my food, so we had these lovely steaks on Tuesday night too. Tonight we’re having a nice, mostly vegetarian bean soup.

Donald—Just put down the matches and back away from the trees.

maggie—Regarding simplifying, I started to say something about WWTE [What Would Thoreau Eat]. Then I remembered that he died at least in part by oversimplifying his diet and eating nothing but oatmeal. Never mind.

susan c—No! I hadn’t seen that and Google has failed me. Help, anyone?

Altadenahiker—While you’re out running, could run by and pick up a couple more steaks?

susan c November 12, 2008 at 6:11 pm

Terry, Here’s a link to the WSJ article:

I haven’t tried this yet, but my friend Carol, the mother of two growing carnivores, swears by it. It’s the only way she prepares steaks now.

Chocolate Shavings November 12, 2008 at 10:27 pm

Steak and blue cheese are truly a match made in heaven ! I agree about simple suppers – they are usually the freshest, most delicious meals but necessitate that each and every product be at its best. Seems like you did this wonderfully!

Terry B November 13, 2008 at 4:49 am

Aha! Thanks, susan c. I saw the article, but just didn’t scroll down far enough. My motto is, “Instant gratification takes too long.”

Thanks for stopping by, Chocolate Shavings. Your pumpkin pie looks like an elegant take on one of my favorite desserts.

diva November 13, 2008 at 10:53 am

aww i love it when friends have actually tried recipes from my food blog. a little embarrassed but very flattered as well! this steak looks amazing. i find blue cheese a little overpowering now and again but i can see these flavours working very well together. mmmm. x

Carolyn November 13, 2008 at 4:40 pm

I love your quote, Terry (“Instant gratification takes too long”) and if you don’t mind, I’m going to appropriate it (she said humbly but with a martial stance).

It’s Blue Kitchen-like to learn about a cheese variety, to understand the etymology of the cheese’s name, and even to listen in on conversations on why the cheese was recommended. These are all characteristics of Blue Kitchen essays and what makes Blue Kitchen so unique and so appreciated.

Terry B November 13, 2008 at 5:26 pm

diva—One of the beauties of the King’s Island Roaring 40s Blue is that, being made from cow’s milk, it tends to be a bit milder than blue cheeses made from sheep’s milk. That said, it is blue cheese, so it does have a pretty big flavor.

Carolyn—Thanks so much! Unfortunately, I can’t take credit for that line; some bumper sticker maker would sue me into the ground if I did. Regarding the storytelling, that’s one of the reasons I started Blue Kitchen. Beyond providing sustenance, the world of food—from how it’s produced to how it’s prepared and even how it’s eaten—is filled with fascinating stories. Sharing some of them is big fun.

Mike November 13, 2008 at 9:49 pm

I keep wanting to try this and I keep forgetting to–I’ve never had a steak and blue cheese together! It looks absolutely delicious

Esi November 14, 2008 at 1:04 am

Simple dinners like this are the best way to entertain in my opinion. Looks beautiful!

Kevin November 15, 2008 at 7:36 pm

That steak looks good! I am going to have to try steak and blue cheese together.

Jennifer Hess November 16, 2008 at 2:46 pm

A truly classic combination, and I’ll also vouch for the wow factor of the Roaring 40s Blue. It’s one of my favorites.

Mimi November 16, 2008 at 10:57 pm

One of my favorite combinations, Terry! Lucky for me, there is a supper club nearby that has a wonderful version of this. My husband is not a blue-cheese lover (what?!) but I am, and in fact have a post coming up that makes excellent use of this wonderful treat!

Christina November 16, 2008 at 11:26 pm

Yum. This is the kind of meal that gets made here probably too frequently, but with ECG such a steakavore, sometimes concessions must be made.

Have you tried Rogue Creamery’s Smokey Blue? Rogue makes awesome blue cheese, and their smoked blue cheese is amazing–I think you’d really like it. I’ll have to check out the Roaring 40s. Man, I love cheese. I mean, I really love cheese.

Okay, you’ve inspired fondue for dinner tonight (and that wasn’t even what you were aiming for!).

Terry B November 17, 2008 at 2:56 am

Mike—Honestly, before deciding to make it for our guests, the combination had never occurred to me. Even though I’ve seen countless blue cheese burgers, on menus and in front of various friends, I’d never made the apparently obvious step up to putting blue cheese on unground steak.

I agree, Esi. It’s easy to get so caught up in showy, complex and even competitive cooking that we forget the whole point of dinner parties is time spent with friends.

Kevin—And when you do, it will become part of your rotation. Classic [it turns out] and delicious.

Jennifer—I’m a relative latecomer to blue cheese, as I am with various, um, stinky cheeses. I’ve got some lost time to make up for.

Mimi—Can’t wait to see what you do with it!

Christina—I’ve not heard of Rogue Creamery’s Smokey Blue! I’ll have to look for it. Just as ECG is a steakavore, Marion is the family cheesevore. She has taken me, increasingly willingly, on some interesting cheese adventures. Hope the fondue was delicious—I’m a big fan of culinary leaps like that, being inspired by a recipe and heading off in a whole new direction.

Carrie January 23, 2009 at 3:19 pm

Terry B. Ran across your blog while researching Just BARE chicken. I am so sorry I haven’t found you before! Your cooking style is so much like mine. More importantly, your photos are amazing and recipes, well, when I get home I look forward to trying some.

So, okay, this is a really old post re: steak and blue cheese. But I find myself wondering where the idea to mix the two came from in the first place. I have done a lot of steak tastings over the past three years. Dry-aged beef can have distinct flavor notes, including Roquefort / blue cheese. Do you think it’s possible that once the beef industry stopped aging beef (to get it to market faster and cheaper) that someone missed the cheesy flavor notes in dry-aged beef and added it back in via a recipe like yours?

Probably not, it’s more likely that the inspiration was from a more subliminal source – few people actively think about flavor notes in beef. But nonetheless, an interesting idea, at least for a beef geek like me.

Terry B January 23, 2009 at 5:39 pm

Carrie—I see from your blog that you study steak [and beef] far more than I do. I just like it. And for whatever reason, the idea for this dish just popped into my head full blown. I must have seen it on some menu at some time in the past, but didn’t remember it—I was actually surprised when commenters referred to it as a classic dish!

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